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Sweatpants & Books | Shelf Care: Par for the Corpse

By Alex Doyle

Welcome to Shelf Awareness, where I review three books related to a theme.  These aren’t necessarily the latest releases but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: Par For The Corpse.

Nope, not zombies playing golf. I’m taking a break from the fantastical—this column is all about jobs where a dead dude is all in a day’s work.

If you like:

The cleverness of Sherlock Holmes
The serial killers in The Silence Of The Lambs
True crime stories

The absolute worst of us as a species

You might like

The Murder Room, by Michael Capuzzo

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

Overview

Everyone in the Vidocq Society makes their living solving crimes, and they meet once a month to go over cold cases.  This book traces the lives and careers of three of the Society’s members: an FBI agent, a forensic sculptor, and a profiler. It digs into their cases and tracks their progress on a particularly troubling murder that had gone unsolved for too long.

Sample passage:

“Mr. LeHavre, for the pleasures of power and control, has thrust himself into the police investigation for years,” he added. “He believes he’s smarter than anyone.” He smiled. “He enjoys playing that dangerous game of catch-me-if-you-can. Today we have witnessed an arrogant and vainglorious attempt to brag to a roomful of cops.”

Takeaway

The whole concept of a real life superhero team of crimefighters struck me as too cool to exist, but this is definitely for real. Apart from the individual cases, which read like short stories, there’s the overall narrative of what skills the investigators bring to the table, and how this affects their personal lives.  This book is a must read for any fan of true crime, and conversely, if you’re not up for hearing about real monsters and the really horrible things they got put away for…you might want to give this one a pass.

Or if you like:

The science of forensics
Careers in medicine where your patient is guaranteed not to get worse
Grossing out anyone who asks what you’re reading

You might like

Working Stiff, by Judy Melinek, MD

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek, MD

Overview

Melinek worked for years as a coroner in New York City.  This book covers her decision to enter the field of pathology, and what she learned about the human body and humans in general through her work.

Sample passage:

The autopsy was downright spooky: there was no blood in the man… I struggled to collect a vial’s worth of blood in the body for the toxicology sample. I can always go into the heart and find blood, but this heart was empty.

“There are cases where there’s no way for the blood to get out of the body, yet you still have the finding of an empty heart at autopsy. Where, then, does the blood go?” Dr. Hirsch asked again, that professorial glint in his eye. No one ventured a guess, so he continued. “What we think is that the blood is going into an area where it is sequestered from the autopsy—specifically in the bony sinuses and trabeculae.”

I was stunned. “You mean his bone marrow soaked it back up?”

Takeaway

It’s a quick read, with each chapter focusing on a case and what can be learned from it. This is obviously not a book for the easily grossed out, but it was a fascinating look into a world few will be familiar with.

Or if you like:
Poor judgment

Running red lights

A medical Uber

You might like

A Thousand Naked Strangers, by Kevin Hazzard

A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard

Overview

The title comes from a paramedic’s experience of an unexpectedly high number of his patients being unclothed when found. The book traces his career from how he got into emergency medicine to the day he figured out he had to leave. The stories range from the expectedly tragic, to the unexpectedly funny, to the curiously interesting, as one seasoned paramedic demonstrates the easiest way to clean an ambulance.

Sample passage:

Five minutes later, we’re standing behind FirstMed’s ramshackle offices, haggling for a better price. Jonathan has ten dollars in his hand. Richard, a local homeless guy, shakes his head.

“Come on,” Jonathan says. “It’s a pretty straightforward job. All I have is this ten-dollar bill.”

“That’s not a ten,” Richard says. “That’s a bunch of ones.”

“Ten ones. Same thing.” Jonathan slaps the bills against his hand. “So?”

To my astonishment, Richard hops in and starts cleaning.

Takeaway

This was an interesting look into a world most of us will only experience peripherally, as EMTs show up and drop people off at the hospital. There’s a lot more going on before and after as a paramedic’s day swings between boredom and panic, and Hazzard walks the reader through all of it.

So, what else should have been on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column where the theme will be: Twilight Zone.

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About Alex Doyle (10 Articles)

Alex Doyle is a father, programmer, smartass and a fan of anything that wastes no time to getting to the point. When he’s not trying to be clever on the Internet, or irritating his kids with dad jokes, he can be found looking for the next great story that everyone has to read.

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